Embattled Health Minister James Reilly has said he utterly rejects acting unethically amid revelations an associate of his owns a site controversially chosen for a new primary care centre.
Facing further calls for his resignation, the Fine Gael TD insisted his actions have been in the best interests of the health service.
“Any contention that there’s anything remotely inappropriate about this is utterly wrong,” said Dr Reilly.
A Labour councillor from Fingal, near Dr Reilly’s north Dublin constituency, became the first to break ranks with his party and called for the minister to quit.
Cian O’Callaghan urged Labour leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to pressure Dr Reilly into resigning.
The minister was accused of a clear conflict of interest after it emerged the owner of the Balbriggan site is Fine Gael supporter Seamus Murphy. Dr Reilly also used a property on the site as a campaign base during the general election.
But Labour’s Education Minister Ruairi Quinn insisted he fully supported his Cabinet colleague.
Mr Quinn said he was completely satisfied with Dr Reilly’s explanation for selecting Balbriggan and Swords for the new units.
It has been reported that Mr Murphy is in the process of selling the site to development firm Rhonnelan.
Company chairman AJ Noonan has been identified as the man responsible for the health centre development – by way of lease with the Health Service Executive (HSE).
A spokesman for Dr Reilly said Mr Noonan was not known to him.
Despite this, Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher called for the minister to quit, saying it was inappropriate that an individual or commercial enterprise stood to gain advantage as a result of his controversial move.
“The Taoiseach needs to have a serious conversation with the minister. He needs to ask him to step aside,” Mr Kelleher said.
The Fianna Fail spokesman also said it was ridiculous that the former junior minister responsible for primary care, Roisin Shortall, was forced to quit following a series of rows with Dr Reilly, who has continued to come under fire for his health reforms.
But Dr Reilly defended the fact that he failed to inform Ms Shortall of the redraft and that he added the towns to the list despite it already being approved and finalised by the HSE.
“If I had it to do again, I’d do it all again,” he told RTE Radio.
He also claimed that as health minister he was entitled to make decisions on the health service in isolation of his department.
Dr Reilly will respond to calls from Opposition TDs to formally address the Dail on the issue and will answer a special notice question later today.
Last week, Ms Shortall accused the minister of not fully supporting the Programme for Government. But he rejected her charge, insisting he was the architect of the programme.
Ms Shortall resigned her ministerial post and from the Labour parliamentary party last week.
She has been replaced by Dublin South TD Alex White.